Texas high school disabled athletes will now have an opportunity to participate in track and field meets this year thanks to a new UIL pilot program. Under the program, disabled athletes will be able to participate in the 100 meter dash, 400 meter dash, and shot put.
"The UIL amended their laws in a pilot program that are going to allow high school athletes with disabilities to compete this year in field and track, 100 meter dash, 400 and shot put," said One Chair at a Time Founder, Joe Chris Rodriguez.
Local students are already gearing up to train and say they're excited to be off the sidelines and able to finally participate.
"I will get to be like an able body and play with kids my own age. I'm ready to start practicing and seeing how far I can throw it," said Pampa High School student, Lauren Pingel.
For Lauren, she has spent much of her time watching from the sidelines while playing manager for Pampa High School's basketball team. But this pilot program launched by the UIL is changing that.
"We're glad we can give her an opportunity to, like she said, participate with people her own age and who don't have a disability," said Pampa High School head girls track coach, Mark Elms.
"I'm glad that the UIL is doing this and stepping out to include those kids that have been excluded for so many years," said Lauren's father, Brad Pingel.
Lauren will be doing the shot put. She has a chair made specifically for that purpose. Students who participate in the 100 meter dash or 400 meter dash will need race chairs and gloves. All equipment which unfortunately cost a pretty penny. Insurance companies don't cover the equipment either. But both Pingel and Rodriguez say there's organizations and grants out there to help these athletes including their organizations, One Chair at a Time and Wheel Times, Inc. Both are also willing and able to talk with school districts to make sure all disabled athletes have a chance to participate in field and track.
"I hope other school districts will see that there are kids that have disabilities but they still have potential and can contribute to their team. And I hope that the coaches and districts will go out to seek those kids," said Brad.
"If there's another school that??s got a young lady or man thats in the same situation that I'm hoping that will encourage them to see how much fun she's having," said Elms.
Pingel says there are still guidelines that need to be finalized by the UIL, but said this first year is all about learning what works and doesn't.